Inspiring People

Accomplished Photographer, David Sawyer

David Sawyer
David Sawyer has been shooting still life in New York City for 18 years. He previously spent 2 years shooting in London & Milan.

David moved to the United States from Manchester England in 1983 to attend Columbia College for fine arts in Chicago and then Parsons School of Design in New York.

Some of his most recent clients include:

Vogue Pelle                   Nike
Vogue Gioiello               Clinique
Departures Magazine      L'oreal
Donna Karan/DKNY        Bergdorf Goodman
Giorgio Armani               Saks Fifth Avenue
David currently splits his time shooting between New York & Europe.

One of the things that I appreciate the most about David Sawyer is his optimism. It is contagious. The only thing that I like more about Dave is his youthful sense of wonderment and adventure. It makes him interesting to talk to.

David Sawyer seems to have discovered that often elusive balance between work and play. He manages to do both really well, all while maintaining an incredible sense of style.

He's oh so very -

Hip...

DR: Tell me about your life and your work.

DS: I am a commercial photographer at heart and lately I have branched out into some more creative work as well. People have always encouraged me to do that. Though, until now, I have never really explored it as deeply as I could. I opened a show recently and I am realizing that I probably should do this kind of thing more often and have more faith and trust in myself on that level.

Like anybody I have my own inner thoughts and insecurities that make me feel like I am not going to be able to do "it". That is a strange thing when you are in the arena of commercial work because you are constantly showing things to people who can always cut you down. I have definitely had that happen to me. Fortunately, I have had more of the nice things said about my work.

It has been humbling and inspiring at the same time to be able to do the kind of work that I do. In general, my everyday work life is about commercial photography and making advertisements or editorial images for people. I am a very lucky person because I get to do a job that I love. I don't think a lot of people can say that.

I wake up everyday with a smile on my face.

DR: What would you say is responsible for the fact that your life works?

DS: Being positive is one of the main things.

I have never really been a negative person and I am also lucky to have a wife who shares that same point of view. We carry each other. If one of us is down...we pick each other up. That has always worked really well. Though, I never really get too depressed or down about anything.

The other thing is hard work.

I think that we really work hard. Sometimes, these days anyway, it feels maybe like I don't work quite as hard but when I look back at the work that we have done over the last twenty years I am amazed. Some times you just reap the benefits of hard work later on. We have worked really hard and we were always disciplined.

DAVID SAWYER

Discipline is another thing that I think is really important. Be disciplined! Get up! Go and greet each day and get on with what you need to do for that day!

DR: Was that something that came easy for you, the discipline part?

DS: I think that was instilled in me through English boarding school.

I went to boarding school when I was eight years old and I was there for ten years. If you adapt to that lifestyle you become incredibly disciplined because you are left alone at an early age but you have to get the work done. I came to America when I was nineteen and I felt that I was light years ahead of the kids that I met in college. I was light years ahead of them. I didn't know a lot about what I had to learn and I had to work at it, but I surpassed the other students because they didn't have any discipline. I don't say that in any disparaging way...

I was just fortunate to have an education that required a lot of discipline and my personality adapted well to that. I was nineteen and I partied but I never left my apartment until I had finished every ounce of work that I had to do and cooked myself a dinner and cleaned my place. Now, I went out and got sloppy drunk when I was finished...

DR: ...but the work was done!

(We laugh)

DS: The work was done!

There was a period of time when we lost sight things. Our books and portfolios didn't look good all of a sudden and so we made a conscious decision to take three months off so that we could redo everything. People would call for the book and we would tell them that they couldn't have it because we were taking three months off. That built a crazy hysteria which we didn't really intend. We just wanted to re-invent ourselves and create a whole new body of work that was inspirational.

That created a weird vibe where people really wanted "it". But we really didn't take time off for that reason...

DR: What was going on or maybe not going on that led you to the decision to take some time off?

DS: We had been doing quite well professionally and we were working so much. I think that we were just putting images in the book without really thinking about it. We lost sight because we were working seven days a week. I was shooting all of the time. I was a freelancer and so I was conditioned to "strike while the iron is hot". I didn't know if I was going to stop tomorrow. "Let's work, work, work!" Most people who work in a freelance world live under that threat mentally, inside of their head, whether they are the greatest or not. They still question if it is going to be there in the morning.

So, we had to just take a step back and look at the work.

DR: I find this fascinating because I think that it is so important for people to take the time to regroup. For a lot of people that is the thing that needs to happen but they may not be aware of that...

DS: ...or be willing to do it...

DR: Well you are obviously doing even better as a result. What kinds of things did you do to regroup?

DS: I didn't do anything. I just sat around and thought about stuff and maybe, didn't think about stuff.

If I wanted to go to a movie I went. I literally took three months off. All I knew was that at the end of three months I needed to have a fresh body of work.

Then I started getting inspired, getting thoughts, and because I had the access and my assistant...Like I woke up one Sunday morning with these thoughts, called my assistant and told him to meet me in the studio and we worked all day on these images and it worked!

Taking time off can be a very daunting thing to consider but if you are creative, I think that sometimes you have to do it. You have to at some point.

DR: Where do you look to get inspired?

DS: Everything visual.

From walking down the streets to watching films and videos...

I just saw the film Babel the other day. Visually it is really stunning. The content is really good but I tend to look at a film more visually because my medium is a visual medium.

With digital advancement now, a whole new world has been opened up to me. I have spent the last six months in "night school", researching and learning digital. I have taught myself what I need to know about it...Learning and discipline and thought...most of my clients are demanding digital so I better know what I am doing. Even if I have someone else there who knows what they are doing, I need to know what is going on. I need to know how it works.

You keep learning all of your life. Anyone that I have ever met who has had any significant success has always believed that.

DR: What is something that you have learned recently that has impacted you?

DS: Well, learning a completely new technique in photography in the last six months is the biggest thing that I have learned.

DR: What have you learned about yourself?

DS: I have learned that I still have the desire to learn and to be inspired by new things.

I did not embrace digital photography for a long time. That was a part of being scared and a part of thinking that the technology was not up to scratch at the time. It is up to scratch now. Having educated myself, I know it is.

And I have learned that I am still intrigued by things. That is a really fortunate thing. I don't want to feel that, at forty two years old nothing interests me anymore or that I have nothing to learn.

There are things that I still want to do in life; things that I still want to learn how to do.

DR: Like what?

DS: Making prosciutto. Making salami. Distilling or making alcohol. My passion for Italy has me wanting to learn how to do these things. I want to learn how to butcher a whole pig and use it. Most people think I am crazy but -- whatever...

I am making prosciutto now. We made some last year.

DR: How was it?

DS: It was great! We made two. We are making four this year. We are going to do 'em next month. We've got four, 30 pound legs. We have to clean them and salt them and cure them and hang them...

DR: You'll have to save some for us...

DS: I will.

DR: Do you have a secret passion that you don't talk much about?

DS: I like cars and motor bikes but I don't talk about that much. I'd like to own a motor bike but with children it worries me too much. It's super dangerous. Maybe if I just went to a track and rode...

DR: If you could wave a magic wand and have anything that you want right now, what would you want to have?

DS: A long life for my kids. My stuff has been good. If I dropped off the face of the earth tomorrow...I would just want a guarantee that my kids would have as much fun in life as my wife and I have had.

DR: Is there anything that you have right now that you don't want?

DS: No. I've got to be honest and say "no". I have been fortunate.

The next thing is -

giving back.

DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?

DS: For making inspiring images.

I hope that people will be inspired by the work that I have done. And, I'd rather have people love my work or hate it than to have them be somewhere in between.

I want to be remembered for having raised good human beings. If my kids were my legacy, that would me O.K. with me. That would be a pretty good thing.

Of course it would be nice to be alive in a hundred years...


Thanks David!

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